California counties' pandemic gun store closures unconstitutional, court rules
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- 9th Circuit rules forcing gun shops to close violated Second Amendment
- U.S. Circuit Judge Lawrence VanDyke predicts ruling will be challenged further
(Reuters) - Two California counties' mandates forcing gun shops and firing ranges, like many other businesses, to close in the early days of the pandemic in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 were unconstitutional, a U.S. appeals court ruled Thursday.
The rulings came from a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel of three Republican-appointed judges, including one who predicted the liberal-leaning court might ultimately bless the bans imposed by Ventura and Los Angeles Counties on further appellate review.
Both counties had issued a series of stay-at-home orders and restrictions on non-essential businesses that included a 48-day closure of gun shops, ammunition shops and firing ranges following the onset of the pandemic in March 2020.
Would-be gun owners and gun-rights advocacy groups including the Second Amendment Foundation sued, arguing the rules violated the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment by banning acquiring firearms for self-defense purposes.
Two lower-court judges declined to block the counties' bans in 2020. While the counties later withdrew the prohibitions, the 9th Circuit said the cases were not moot since the plaintiffs sought nominal damages.
U.S. Circuit Judge Lawrence VanDyke in the Ventura County case said its orders barred citizens "from realizing their right to keep and bear arms, both by prohibiting access to acquiring any firearm and ammunition, and barring practice at firing ranges with any firearms already owned."
Raymond DiGuiseppe, a lawyer for the plaintiffs at The DiGuiseppe Law Firm, in an email said the rulings reached "what is undoubtedly the right outcome."
Ashley Bautista, a spokesperson for Ventura County, in a statement called the ruling disappointing and said the county was evaluating what steps to take next.
VanDyke, an appointee of former Republican President Donald Trump, in an unusual step issued a concurring opinion to his own ruling acknowledging most judges in the circuit would disagree with him and predicting a larger panel would hear the case en banc.
The conservative judge, a frequent critic of 9th Circuit's precedents, said any firearm-related regulation could be upheld under the circuit's "exceptionally malleable" approach to Second Amendment challenges.
To prove that point, he authored an "alternative draft opinion" favoring Ventura County to "demonstrate just how easy it is to reach any desired conclusion under our current framework."
VanDyke was joined by U.S. Circuit Judges Ryan Nelson and Andrew Kleinfeld, who in his own concurring opinion said: "Neither pandemic nor even war wipes away the Constitution."
The cases in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals are McDougall v. Ventura County, No. 20-56220, and Martinez v. Villanueva, No. 20-56233.
For the plaintiffs: Raymond DiGuiseppe of The DiGuiseppe Law Firm
For Ventura County: Assistant County Counsel Christine Renshaw
For Los Angeles County: Paul Beach of Lawrence Beach Allen & Choi
(Editor's Note: This story has been updated to add a comment from a spokesperson for Ventura County.)
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